There's been a lot of conversation recently about Memory Augmentation. But what is it?
Memory augmentation is the process by which one's ability to retain information is increased.
AI and the current innovations within supportive technology are likely to support memory augmentation in ways we cannot even imagine today. In his TED talk, Tom Gruber, the inventor of Siri, presented ideas on how AI can and will enhance our memory. In this talk, he poses the question:
"What's a kind of augmentation that we would all like to have? ...how about cognitive enhancement?
Instead of asking, How smart can we make our machines? let's ask how smart can our machines make us?"
Tom then goes on to evangelise what humans could achieve if we had memories as good as a computer. How may this positively impact our social and work lives? Tom isn't suggesting we intervene medically with our memories or minds. What he is highlighting is that fundamentally, in its basic form, AI is about pre-empting the information we may need and providing easy access to it.
However, we don't need to wait for the advanced of technology to be augmenting and enhance our memories. With some simple tricks, everyone can improve their memory and combat the “forgetting curve”.
What is the Forgetting Curve?
The forgetting curve, also known as the retention curve, was devised by Hermann Ebbinghaus over 100 years ago; the hypothesis, which plots memory and learning retention over time, remains relevant and valid to this day.
The forgetting curve demonstrates the loss of information over time when there is no attempt to retain it. The research states that within one hour of being provided information we have forgotten an average of 50 percent of it unless we use techniques to help retain that knowledge and help us remember.
Within 24 hours, we will have forgotten an average of 70 percent.
Within a week, we forget an average of 90 percent of what was initially presented to us.
90 percent it a staggering amount of information to lose, especially if you are actively needing to retain the knowledge and learn from it.
The good news is, we can combat the forgetting curve and reduce memory loss by using simple tips and hacks. This pulls the knowledge back into our minds, and over time takes it moves it from our short-term to our long-term memory.
Of course, we can't remember everything, and wouldn't want to, but having techniques at hand that help you remember what you do want to, is essential for life and career improvement.
Memory is the building block of excellence, if you can't remember the details of a subject and master the basics, you will always be a novice at your chosen skill set, rather than excel to an expert.
The key to retaining knowledge
The key to retaining the knowledge that you require is to use augmented memory techniques which provide clarity, focus and structure to what it is you want to learn. There is so much information readily available to us today the danger of not implementing these techniques is that the information you do need becomes mixed with the information you don't, and you struggle to remember the important stuff.
5 hacks to help you remember
There are many techniques that, used in combination, will improve your memory and help you excel in whatever it is you are choosing to learn.
I've chosen 5 of my favourites.
1. Pay attention
Pay attention, be present and actively engaged in what it is you choose to learn. Give yourself time and space to allow your mind to do the work required of it.
This may sound obvious, but if you put energy into retaining knowledge and if you are engaged with the subject matter you have a far higher likelihood of remembering it. A good test for this is to try and recall your most active credit card number. If you are like me, you'll probably add this into a website at least a few times a week. And yet, couldn't tell you the number. I, might at a push recall the last 4 digits, but that's it. Although I type this number hundreds of times a year I don't remember it, because I'm not actively engaged in doing so. And for this bit of information, I don't need to be.
If you don’t do anything else, do this. It is unlikely that any of the other tips will help you remember if you don't do this one.
2. Be organised
You can’t remember everything. Acknowledge this and tackle it by establishing a routine and being mindful of what you need to actively remember, and what you don't. For example, I rarely lose my keys or sunglasses because I always put them in the same place, every time - actually that's not a situation I’m at all familiar with - I always lose my keys! But the suggestion is sound. With learning, if you put everything you want to learn in one place, you’ll know where it is when you need it.
This practice is something I call "Knowledge for now, knowledge for later". For the information that I absolutely need in my memory, I implement memory strategies. For the stuff I need to be aware of but don't actively need to remember, I ensure it's stored in a safe place. Sometimes you just need to know where to go retrieve the information you need.
Warning! - These CAN help with being organised, but they can also become a mess. If using these tools make sure you are selective with what it is you are saving, and use tags to help with the organisation. Otherwise, they can become a mess of information, most of which is never looked at again.
Watch out for our future blog on the good, the bad and the ugly, of organisational and read-it-later apps.
In some industries, the tradition of reflection is rooted in the fabric of the job and encourages continual learning. Most healthcare professionals, for example, reflection is second nature. The practice is embedded from student to professional and often integral to their ability to legally practice. Most professions that are regulated by a Charter, Institute or Society will require reflection to be undertaken by their members as part of their Continual Professional Development. The technique has enormous gains for memory retention, and although many of us will passively reflect, I would encourage you to be active in this technique to really take advantage of its power.
There are many models out there - Gibbs reflective model is one, but there are many - just google them and find one you like. Initially reflect on your own, but then to gain even more impact, reflect with a friend, partner or colleague. This can be open up a whole new level of memory and insight.
4. Write Things Down
There have been a number of studies which have proven that the process of writing (not typing!) something down increases the likelihood of remembering it. The activity engages your brain and cognitive function in a way that reading and typing don't. And the benefits don't stop there. Writing can provide clarity on a thought or idea, taking you from merely learning verbatim to understanding and comprehension. If writing things down isn't your thing try audio and vocalising, use an app that allows you to dictate. Set reminders to reflect and review your writing or dictation.
Writing it down doesn’t always sit well with what I've just discussed about digitally saving things in one place that's easily accessible. You don’t have to sacrifice being efficient with pen and paper.
Write down your notes (keeping it short and concise). Take a photo of those notes and upload it to a portfolio like or Pocket or Evernote. Tag it or categorise it. Then, add a reminder, encouraging you to reflect on your notes and put them into practice. Hey-presto! This combines 4 of the tips in one go: Combatting being organised, knowing where to find something, writing it down so that your brain cements it, then reflecting and reminding to enhance your memory trigger. Brilliant!
5. Practice, practice, practice
There is no substitute for trying something out and practising what you've learnt. If you are keen not only to know something but to fully understand and become proficient in it, practice is the way forward. This can sound obvious for skill-based learning - of course, I can't learn to swim if I don't practice. But it is also excellent for theory and research-based knowledge. For this type of learning "practice" might include saying what you've learnt out loud or actively engaging in the subject matter rather than learning something verbatim.
Of courses, there are lots of other techniques you can try; mnemonics, memory palaces, incorporating emotional connections, visualisation techniques, and lots of good practices you should implement; sleep methods, scheduling time to learn, exercise.
However, these 5 simple tricks are, in my opinion, uncomplicated and the building blocks for memory retention.
Give them a try and let me know what you think.